It may or may not be fair, but sports fans hold their favorite stars to a much higher standard. Many elite athletes recognize that it’s important to appear squeaky-clean for the sake of their brands. They will make much more money because more companies will want to endorse them. On the flip side, major controversies often result in athletes losing sponsorships.
As a result, many star athletes have bland personalities. But they often have darker stories that they’d prefer fans to forget. Let’s look at 25 (supposedly) squeaky-clean athletes with surprising dark sides. Check out the list below via The Sportster.
25. Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers had a relatively squeaky-clean image for the majority of his career. The quarterback was the face of the famous Green Bay Packers organization. NFL fans across the league respected and liked him. There was even talk of him hosting the popular TV show, ‘Jeopardy.’ Then in 2021, Rodgers revealed a darker side of himself. The league believed that he was vaccinated against COVID-19 before the season.
But this proved not to be the case. Rodgers fell ill and the truth emerged. He underwent alternative treatments because he didn’t trust the vaccine. This went against NFL regulations and was embarrassing for everybody involved. Then, Rodgers went on a highly-publicized rant to Pat McAfee about the incident. It was surprising because nobody expected this from him, but he became one of the NFL’s current public enemies.
After Michael Jordan, Beckham became arguably the biggest superstar in global sports. His brand was bigger than most soccer clubs due to its marketability. He played with great success for Manchester United, Real Madrid, and L.A. Galaxy. Meanwhile, Beckham created a new MLS franchise after he retired. Inter Miami joined the league in 2020 and Beckham had high hopes for his team.
But if there is one thing that motivates Beckham, it’s money. He attracted a lot of controversy in 2021 when he agreed to promote the Qatar World Cup. Qatar is infamous because of the brutal way they treat their migrant workers. Thousands of people died as they worked on construction sites in horrendous conditions. Beckham knew this but he took the payday and looked the other way.
Jones rose to prominence in 2021 after he became the Patriots’ starting quarterback. There were instant comparisons to Tom Brady because of his playing style and even his appearance. The rookie enjoyed a decent 2021, especially compared to his first-year rivals. He helped his franchise become contenders in the AFC and generally put in mature performances. However, Jones isn’t as squeaky-clean as he appears.
It appeared as though the San Francisco 49ers were set to pick Jones but they opted for Trey Lance instead. Kyle Shanahan believed that Lance was a better option for their system. Another reason emerged when photos went viral of Jones wearing a racist Barack Obama costume (via Sportscasting). The outfit, complete with a mask, had dreadlocks as well as the phrase ‘Nobama’ emblazoned on the front.
Alvarez became the most lucrative athlete in the world in 2020. The Mexican superstar went on a ruthless tear through multiple weight divisions and knocked out his opponents in brutal style. Then he became the undisputed super-middleweight champion in 2021. It was his crowning achievement after a savage rise to the top. However, Alvarez has a dark side that brought criticism.
His links to doping are clear. In 2018, he tested positive for a banned substance but pointed the finger at tainted Mexican beef and escaped without severe punishment. Despite this, his entire gym has links to PED use (via Marca). It’s a shame that his career carries this stain because there is no denying his talent. Unfortunately, his plan to rise to light-heavyweight hints that something may be amiss.
Hamilton is one of the most famous British athletes on the planet. The F1 star even earned a knighthood for his services to racing. Meanwhile, he’s a dedicated human rights and social activist off of the track. He famously drove with a rainbow flag on his helmet at the Qatar Grand Prix. However, Hamilton’s squeaky-clean image masks a darker reality. That’s according to his ex-girlfriend (via The Sun).
Veronica Valle dated Hamilton for a period and claimed he’s an incredibly controlling individual. She said that he fired a pilot for using the toilet in Hamilton’s private jet. He was also allegedly infuriated when she ate ice cream the wrong way. Furthermore, she claimed he wanted threesomes with other women. In the end, Valle left him because he was too difficult.
On the face of it, Lee appears to be a perfect sports role model. The ONE atomweight champion has a dominant fighting style that she combines with a squeaky-clean image to great success. Her brother, husband, and younger sister are also athletes on the ONE roster. They train out of United MMA in Hawaii and Evolve MMA in Singapore. However, the latter is owned by ONE President Chatri Sityodtong.
This is where it becomes controversial because Lee has allegedly received special treatment. She allegedly missed weight ahead of multiple fights but didn’t receive any financial penalty (via SCMP). Furthermore, Sityodtong has given easy match-ups to several Evolve fighters in a bid to build the team’s standing. It’s wild because he has a secondary interest in the gym. The Lee dynasty isn’t all that it appears.
Djokovic is Serbia’s top sports star. The tennis legend is one of a trio of tennis icons including Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. These three men stood out as the greatest of their generation. Djokovic is the only double career Grand Slam winner in history. In short, his achievements are sublime. But Djokovic is a complicated character. His dominance on the court masks his darker side.
He isn’t as squeaky-clean as he first appears. In 2021, he attracted criticism because he refused a vaccination (via Golf Digest). Then he hosted a tennis exhibition and went to a party afterward. Of course, he infected everybody he encountered. Furthermore, he sometimes displays petulance on the court. He once drilled a ball in anger behind him and caught an umpire in the throat.
In 2021, Usman was the pound-for-pound best MMA fighter on the planet. The Nigerian-American’s rise through the ranks was relentless. Fellow welterweights avoided him because of his wrestling and rapidly-improving hands. However, he forced his way to title contention and became one of the most dominant athletes on the roster. He arrived in the U.S. as a young immigrant and rose to become a star.
Even though Usman is a top fighter, he’s also very cynical. The Nigerian Nightmare regularly grabs the fence and punches opponents on the back of the head (via Pundit Arena). Meanwhile, his rival, Colby Covington accused him of steroid use. These are only allegations but Covington said there were needle track marks all over Usman’s stomach. Maybe Usman isn’t as squeaky-clean as he wants fans to believe.
Pacquiao’s list of achievements is staggering. The Filipino star is the only boxer in history to hold titles in eight weight divisions. He’s also an active senator in his native country and plans to run for the presidency. Pacquiao has ferocious punching power and fought the best of the best. Meanwhile, his rise from poverty to glory is very inspiring. But not everything about Pacquiao is squeaky-clean.
Firstly, his views on women and homosexuals are troubling. He once described the latter as ‘animals’ and emphasized his opposition to their existence. Also, Filipino politics are notoriously corrupt. Allegedly, Pacquiao is no stranger to malpractice in his nation’s government (via Bleacher Report). Furthermore, rumors of steroid use buzz around the Pac-Man because of his unique rise through the weight divisions.
Gerrard was Liverpool’s most important player for a generation. He played for them through one of the toughest periods in their history. But he stayed loyal and dragged them by the scruff of the neck to multiple trophies. The Liverpudlian mostly maintained a squeaky-clean image through his tenure at the club. He never had flashy haircuts and was very much the family man.
But Gerrard has shady connections to the Liverpool underworld. One of his close friends was John Kinsella, a prominent local gangster. Kinsella helped defuse a situation between Gerrard and another gangster nicknamed ‘The Psycho.’ In the end, Kinsella died in a shooting in 2018 (via Inews). Gerrard and his family had the utmost respect for him because he helped them out of a dangerous scenario.
Khabib’s record in MMA speaks for itself. He retired with an undefeated 29-0 record and only lost a single round in his UFC career. His oppressive wrestling style overwhelmed his opponents. The Dagestani brutalized them and broke their spirit. Fans have praised Khabib for shunning the trappings of wealth. He is a devout Muslim and is committed to his family as well as his teammates.
However, Khabib isn’t as squeaky-clean as fans think. Firstly, his views on women in sport are archaic. He doesn’t believe that women should compete in MMA. Meanwhile, he has links to some dubious characters including Ramzan Kadyrov (via The Guardian), the ruthless warlord of Chechnya. The dictator is purging his state of homosexuals and other marginalized groups.
Williams is probably the most famous female athlete on the planet. The tennis superstar is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time. However, as well as being an elite athlete, Williams is a staunch social activist. She is outspoken and vocal about the issues she cares about. Many young women hold her up as an inspiration because she overcame the odds in her life. Furthermore, she has mostly escaped scandal.
While her image is squeaky-clean, there’s no pretending that Williams is always perfect. She’s a ruthless competitor and one of the worst losers in the world (via New York Post). Nobody can blame her for that because she has such a strong winning mentality. But she created some embarrassing moments. For example, she ruined Naomi Osaka’s Australian Open Win. Williams is also relentless in her criticism of umpires.
The Seattle Seahawks secured their greatest-ever quarterback in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. Since then, Wilson went from strength to strength. He helped Pete Carroll’s men to a Super Bowl and is as consistent as they come. The eight-time Pro Bowler is always in the conversation for an MVP award. Meanwhile, he’s a devout Christian and married famous singer Ciara. The squeaky-clean couple even stayed celibate before marriage.
However, some news sources reported that Wilson cheated on his wife. Sportskeeda reported that Wilson had an affair with model Reina Westberg. Westberg claimed that he got her pregnant. Furthermore, teammates linked Wilson to other women, including the ex-girlfriend of Golden Tate. These are allegations, but if they’re true, Wilson isn’t the angel he appears to be.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot to Johnson on the surface. He’s a brilliant golfer because he is a regular world number one. However, he doesn’t have the biggest personality like some other stars. But there is more to him than meets the eye because he isn’t as squeaky-clean as fans think. Johnson had a fondness for cocaine. This caused trouble for him on multiple occasions.
Over the years he failed three drug tests. The first was for marijuana but the second and third were for cocaine. He took a leave of absence from the sport after the story broke. The PGA Tour never punished him because it doesn’t test for recreational drugs outside of competition (via Bleacher Report). In the end, Johnson sought professional help to escape his drug habit. Things turned out well because he married Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.
On the face of it, Namajunas is squeaky-clean. The UFC women’s strawweight champion is soft-spoken and shuns the limelight. She famously shaved her hair off because it wasn’t functional. Meanwhile, she prefers gardening and farm work to shop or being a movie star. Some people think that she’s wasting the opportunity to be a superstar. But “Thug Rose” sometimes rattles cages.
Her most notorious moment came before her fight with Chinese star Weili Zhang. She used the phrase, “better dead than red,” to describe her opponent. Many analysts criticized her for her choice of words because it was unfair. Zhang wasn’t a representative of the Chinese government but effectively become one by default for being matched up with Namajunas. She was simply another athlete making her way in the world. But Namajunas mobilized her fans against her (via SBNation).
Messi is arguably the greatest soccer player of his generation. The diminutive forward represented Barcelona for most of his career before a shock move to PSG in 2021. His skills are sublime and his goalscoring record speaks for itself. Meanwhile, he has a squeaky-clean reputation as a family man. In many ways, he’s the opposite of his rival Cristiano Ronaldo. But like all megastars, Messi has a dark side (via Bleacher Report).
Throughout his Barcelona career, he wanted his teammates to know he was the top dog. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o left because of Messi’s dominance. Meanwhile, Neymar also quit because he knew Messi was the top dog. The Argentinian star knew his power at the club. He even used it to bring down Barcelona’s board of directors. Nobody messes with Messi.
The recently retired Brees was a top NFL quarterback. He started his NFL career in San Diego. But he became an icon in New Orleans. He secured legend status with a Super Bowl win and broke a host of NFL records. Many people talk about Brees’s charity work in the Big Easy after Hurricane Katrina. He carefully maintained a squeaky-clean image but not everything was positive.
Some of his business dealings are shady, to say the least. He was involved in a couple of eyebrow-raising gentrification projects in New Orleans. One involved a three-story yoga studio (via Nola.com) that resulted in public outcry. Meanwhile, he became the face of AdvoCare. After an investigation, FDA ruled it to be a pyramid scheme (via The Athletic). Brees was a great player and his heart appears to be in the right place. But his work off the field is a mixed bag.
“The Great One” is an NHL and Canadian legend. His skill on the ice was mesmerizing as he broke record after record. Furthermore, he combined his hockey prowess with a squeaky-clean image to maintain a spotless personal brand. Gretzky helped bring the sport into the mainstream in California. He also won multiple awards for his sportsmanship. It seems like he was the perfect athlete but he also carried a dark story.
Operation Slapshot was an investigation into an illegal gambling ring in the United States. New Jersey troopers investigated Gretzky’s wife Janet Jones as part of the string (via Bleacher Report). Meanwhile, Coyotes’ coach Rick Tocchet pled guilty to conspiracy. Gretzky’s wife dragged his name into the mud. This made his life uncomfortable for a period. It just goes to show that even the biggest stars face major troubles.
Son is an icon in his home country of South Korea. He became one of the most exciting attacking players in the Premier League. The forward won plaudits for his skill, graft, and positive attitude. His energy and trademark grin made him a likable figure. Meanwhile, he refuses to even date women. This is because he wants to maintain a squeaky-clean image. He is devoted only to soccer.
However, Son has a dark side. The Korean sometimes loses control and lashes out at his opponents. In 2019, he showed a lot of petulance as he broke Andre Gomes’s leg. He also kicked Antonio Rudiger in the chest. In another, he elbowed Jefferson Lerma. Many managers protest that their star isn’t “that type of player.” But Son proved that he can be when things don’t go his way (via Fansided).
Cormier is a self-described company man. He also considered himself the antithesis of Jon Jones. The pair loathed each other but Jones always had the edge when they fought. However, Cormier became a two-weight champion before Jones to further stoke their rivalry. Jones was always a problematic individual. On the other hand, D.C. coached children’s wrestling and appeared to be squeaky-clean.
However, Cormier wasn’t afraid to break the rules when it suited him. A clear example came during a weigh-in at UFC 210 when he pressed his body weight on the towel in front of him. This cheating enabled him to make weight for his bout (via MMA Fighting). Another moment occurred in 2021 when he urged fighters to pick title fights over big money bouts. Instantly, critics accused him of being a UFC shill because he works for the company.
The entire Manning dynasty is as clean-cut as could be. Peyton represents his family perfectly. The former Colts quarterback was a Super Bowl winner and avoided scandal throughout his NFL career. He espoused Christian values and was always smiling face in front of the media. But there was one dark episode in his past that rose to light again in 2016. A lawsuit cited his name in connection to Title IX violations at the University of Tennessee.
In 2009, a trainer named Dr. Jamie Nauthright accused Manning of placing his bare genitals on her face during a physical examination (via N.Y. Daily News). However, Manning denied this and claimed he was mooning a teammate. In the end, Nauthright successfully sued Manning for defamation. But the school released her after 10 years of service. Meanwhile, a court placed a gag order on both parties.
Ronaldo is one of soccer’s most marketable athletes. The Portuguese superstar has won almost everything possible in his sport. His incredible success also led to mesmerizing wealth. He became the face of major brands like Nike and Unilever. He created a clean-cut image that emphasized his hard work. However, Ronaldo has some dark stories he would prefer the media to forget.
First, a Spanish court sentenced him to two years in prison. This came after he avoided paying almost $20 million in tax. They suspended the punishment but hit him with a massive fine. Then there was a rape case after a woman accused him of assaulting her in 2009. It became a civil case after a Las Vegas judge ruled that the evidence wasn’t clear enough to charge him (via CNN).
Bryant became one of the faces of the NBA after his rise to glory with the Lakers. After Shaquille O’Neal departed for Miami, Bryant took over Los Angeles. Fans remembered him with heavy hearts after his tragic death in 2020. Amazingly, he carried a squeaky-clean image into retirement. That’s because of a shocking moment in his history. His rape case was notorious but he rebounded successfully.
A 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of raping her in a hotel room in 2004. The case went to court and attracted a lot of media attention (via ABC). In the end, Bryant apologized for his actions. But he admitted to having relations with the woman. Finally, she refused to testify and settled in a civil court. Bryant’s critics considered seeing him as a rapist but it didn’t hold him back.
Brady is the most successful NFL star ever. The seven-time Super Bowl winner is an American icon. Somehow he balances his sports career alongside a squeaky-clean image. Brady doesn’t even appear in many endorsements because it doesn’t interest him. Some people even think he has a boring personality. But Brady has a darker side than some fans expect. Overall, he will do anything to win.
The former Patriots quarterback played a central role in the DeflateGate scandal. As a result, Commissioner Rob Manfred threw the book at him. Of course, Brady made a mockery of this by bouncing back and winning the MVP award. Meanwhile, he isn’t afraid to make power plays. Bill Belichick discovered this the hard way. Brady insisted on bringing his alternative medicine guru on team flights (via Boston Magazine).
James is one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. The NBA’s biggest star maintains a squeaky-clean image. But sometimes even his dark side breaks through. A clear example occurred in 2021 when his Lakers played the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were ahead before James elbowed Isaiah Smith in the face. Smith reacted furiously with blood dripping down his face. Furthermore, replays revealed James knew what he was doing.
However, the NBA hit their cash cow with just a one-game suspension for the hit. Meanwhile, they suspended Smith for two games because of his reaction. James escaped lightly because he was almost the instigator of a brawl. Nobody disagreed with Smith’s ban. But many people felt like James should have received the same. In the end, the “King” received special treatment (via CBS Sports).